The metaphorical Pike River post-mortem has started, without waiting for the Royal Commission and others’ findings, in some defiance of the truth, and the incendiary risks

Sometimes there are no words. And yet, columns must be written, inches and airtime filled, any kind of resolution sought for those who must carry on. Inquiries must be launched and action taken, on behalf of those who cannot.

And so, the metaphorical post-mortems — the official inquiries, with media fossicking round the edges — have started, into what happened at Pike River. Sunday morning programme Q&A devoted itself to the issues that would be canvassed by a Royal Commission of Inquiry.

It must be done. But it is a bad business, as well as a desperately sad one. There can be no winners from this, and the indirect fallout is much wider than the 29 bereft families, or Greymouth, reeling from a punch in the throat.

We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth; but neither will we shrink from that risk at any time it must be faced.John F Kennedy

Before Pike River, 19/11, Pike River was and is the mine under Paparoa National Park. The mine beneath protected Schedule 4 land, accessed from conservation land. The mine lauded by governments of both stripes, and the mining industry, as an example of best practice, although, not all agreed.

Analysis, on Q&A and elsewhere, is now turning to whether mine workers’ safety was put at risk for the sake of the environment.

A source for this week’s Listener feature doubts the feasibility of pre-draining methane from beneath the Paparoa ranges, with a national park on top, while suggesting it may have been needed. Q&A panellist Matt McCarten alleged on Sunday that a second ventilation shaft had been proposed, until some endangered blue duck were found near the site of it. These questions would, they agreed, need to be gone into by the inquiry.

“And we will find out if we have endangered human life for the sake of the blue duck” summed up Holmes, succinctly.

“And we will therefore have to assess, should we have done it,” he added, elliptically.

Time and careful inquiry will tell us the causes of those devastating consequences: whether the blue duck did, in fact, have anything to do with the endangerment. The allegation has been rebutted, as a "myth" and "completely false".

Pike River looms large at the moment. It risks misunderstanding of another, quite separate, lignite-focused campaign.

But, indirectly, depending on the answers to the types of questions now being asked, the inquiry may find itself unable to avoid some glancing comment on the interface between mining and conservation. It may have to end up addressing the truth of the proposition that even in pristine areas, mining and the environment can be friends, as well as assigning blame, or not, to the blue duck.

Meanwhile — while we wait to learn if the mine can limp on to some sort of recovery, or will close its doors, and remember its victims tomorrow, and today — the incendiary toxic atmosphere around Pike River is not only local to the coalface.

There’s a risk that outrage and grief in the mining community will find its outlet in the end along the path of least resistance: blaming the greenies, as Gordon Campbell put it. There will be some people with an interest in helping that along.

Comments (10)

by Bob Dagg on December 02, 2010
Bob Dagg

Hi Clair


There was a letter to the editor in the ODT last Wednesday (I think) which placed the blame for Pike River on MMP. The logic was MMP let the Greens get into parliament and having the Greens in parliament stopped the company from open cast mining, therefore MMP should go.


Doesn't take long for the crazies to surface!

by Claire Browning on December 02, 2010
Claire Browning

I think, particularly as time goes on, there will be a risk or temptation for everybody to exploit this for their own purposes (whatever those purposes may be). So far, most have not - I have one exception in mind, a government member, who is not the sharpest tool in the drawer - and long may that deference continue, especially today. For myself, I would have preferred to let it rest. Especially today.

by jo mcv on December 02, 2010
jo mcv

Hi Claire,

"Q&A panellist Matt McCarten alleged on Sunday that a second ventilation shaft had been proposed, until some endangered blue duck were found near the site of it."

Do you have a source for this comment? I think it was Matthew Hooton and not Matt McCarten who said this, but would like to check.



by Claire Browning on December 02, 2010
Claire Browning

It was Matt McCarten that said it on the Q&A panel. The source is online at TVNZ, already linked to in the post, and again here (from 8.10). 

It may be that Matthew Hooton said the same somewhere else, on one of his commentary platforms, but if so, I'm not aware of it.

by Claire Browning on December 02, 2010
Claire Browning

PS. Here is Matthew Hooton, talking to Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon on Monday. He was talking about the scope of the terms of reference for the Royal Commission of Inquiry, and the importance of including in the terms of reference all possible proximate causes:

“I think it’s also important that it looks at the history of the development of this mine over some decades really, but in particular over the last 10 or 15 years, and … the decision points that were made to try to balance the desire to export this coal for economic reasons and to preserve the Schedule 4 land which the coal sits under. And as also was discussed on Q&A over the weekend, this is perhaps as far as anyone knows the only coal mine in the world where the entrance slopes up towards the coal, and there are also questions about whether, because it was in a national park, whether the ventilation systems were as comprehensive as they needed to be. … And there are suggestions, and Matt McCarten raised these on Q&A, that a single blue duck was found in this area, and that may have meant that the company did not get the approvals it needed for all the ventilation it wanted. Now that still makes it the company’s responsibility if that’s the case, because in that case if a company does not get the authorisations from government authorities that it believes it needs to be safe, then it’s up to the company to say ‘we’re not going ahead then’. But still, the role of the Department of Conservation does need to come into the inquiry.”

Later on, he said:

"and in the end ... there's going to be some very very tough questions that need to be asked of the company itself ... they can't entirely blame [others] ... it's not appropriate to say 'oh well the problem here was the blue duck' or the Department of Conservation. They  need to get their share of blame, if appropriate, but it still is the company's responsibility, and we need names ..."

by Save Happy Valley on December 02, 2010
Save Happy Valley

Green Party message to the miners union (EPMU):


For Andrew Little and all EPMU staff and members Published: December 2, 2010 by frog 8Share For Andrew Little and all EPMU staff and members

Kia Ora Koutou,

On behalf of all the MPs, members and staff of the Green Party we want to extend our deepest sympathy and our solidarity to you all. Words are inadequate to express our immense feelings of horror, devastation and helplessness in the face of this cruel disaster. If we could take some of the burden now faced by the families and friends of those that have been lost, we would do so. But we cannot.

We want to express our great admiration for the way you, Andrew, and other EPMU officials, have conducted yourselves and represented workers’ interests in the glare of the unprecedented media attention on this tragedy. We also wish to praise EPMU’s initiative in establishing the relief fund and, particularly, the intention to reserve half that fund for educational purposes. That is a lesson well learnt from the Strongman disaster.

We have been pleased to work with you and the CTU to try to secure a Royal Commission of Inquiry that had wide terms of reference able to take into account systemic issues like the downgrading of the Mines Inspectorate, for the opportunity for bereaved families to have their say, and that had a member nominated by workers, to ensure that we can all have confidence in the Commission, and that those who go underground in the future can do so knowing that they will be as safe as they can be.

Please know that if there is further work that we can do to advance workplace safety, or to to provide meaningful solace or support to your members we will not hesitate to do so.

In solidarity,

Russel Norman
Metiria Turei
Kevin Hague

And the entire Green Party of Aotearoa

by Save Happy Valley on December 02, 2010
Save Happy Valley
Rick Barber from Ngati Waewae speaks about mining on Native Affairs - watch it here

he has support for DOC and their work on Pike River Coal

by DeepRed on December 03, 2010

Bob D: "Doesn't take long for the crazies to surface!"

The same crazies on Kool-Aid who warn us we'lll be speaking Arabic unless we conscript everyone.

by Claire Browning on December 04, 2010
Claire Browning

The comments thread on Kevin Hague's frogblog post is interesting and, well, right on point.

On the Matthew Hooton / Matt McCarten matter, the finger in this forum is being pointed right at Hooton - not surprising, really. Him being a hollow man, an' all. Along with a few others - "wanna-be environmental vandals like Ian Wishart, Matthew Hooton, Cameron Slater and some libertarian idiot I had never heard of before called Mark Hubbard" plus Holmes in the Herald ("As my colleague, Guyon Espiner, asked this week, have we saved the snails and killed the men?") - with some answering fire at Nandor Tanczos.

However, there is some mention of an NBR piece from Hooton the previous week. Which may or may not have been the source of the "suggestions, and Matt McCarten raised these on Q&A ..." about the blue duck. I don't know. Hooton's NBR content online is subscriber only.

I don't imagine, though, that there's too much complaint with the way Matthew re-expressed himself in the end on Monday on NTN, since that's exactly where the frogblog thread ends up.

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